Komando Off Target!

Windows Journalist Completely Misses the Point of the Mac

by David Lang (Posted: 9/21/02)

Some people just don't get it! It seems that for every switcher who dumps his or her "horrid" little Windows machine, there are a dozen more out there who assume that a Mac is nothing more than an incompatible PC. One such person appears to be computer journalist Kim Komando, who, after spending two months with a flat-panel iMac, has written an article entitled, Why Windows has the edge over the Mac. Although I think Ms. Komando's efforts to understand the Mac were well-intentioned, she somehow managed to ignore almost all of the Mac's advantages.

Looking at the Mac through a Windows Lens

Ms. Komando goes to great lengths to explain that she "tried hard to be very fair to both sides" and that she was "not influenced one bit by the fact this column runs on a Microsoft-owned site." Wanting to give the iMac "a thorough test drive," she determined to do all her work on it.

At first glance, that may seem like a good way to get the complete Macintosh experience, kind of like trying to learn French by moving to Paris and being forced to speak it every day. Unfortunately, this total immersion approach to learning the Mac actually served to reinforce her bias towards Windows.

For example, Ms. Komando complains that because she had to learn OS X, her "productivity immediately plunged." The iMac, she explains, "will do most of what Windows does, but it often does things differently." Because Ms. Komando was using the iMac to get her day-to-day work done, she wasn't able to take the time to understand why the Mac often does things differently. Instead, she would try to do what she was used to doing in Windows, and when that didn't work as she expected, she would have to go on a frustrated search to find the Mac way of doing what she was trying to do. The first place she would turn was probably Apple's abysmal Mac Help, and then she'd really become frustrated!

Eventually, Ms. Komando got used to the way OS X works, and although she doesn't explicitly say it, one would assume her productivity picked back up again. However, her approach to using the Mac left her with the impression that the Mac is "no more intuitive than Windows XP." I would argue that steeped as she is in the Windows interface, she was in no position to judge how "intuitive" the Mac OS is, because she wasn't just learning how to use a Mac, she was having to unlearn habits that had become deeply ingrained.

If, on the other hand, Ms. Komando had simply experimented with the Mac, without the pressure of trying to accomplish a specific task, she would have gotten a better feel for the way OS X works, without getting the impression that every difference was somehow a departure from Windows. She might also have discovered things that the Mac does which Windows doesn't even begin to do. As it was, all she could conclude was that the Mac "will do most of what Windows does."

Speed Kills

Ms. Komando bemoaned the fact that the 800 MHz iMac she was using was somewhat slower than her 1.5 Ghz Windows machine. She says repeatedly that it was not significantly slower, but that there was occasionally a slight lag--a well known problem with previous incarnations of OS X. With Jaguar, I suspect that much of the sluggishness she experienced would now be alleviated, but one can hardly fault her for reporting what she experienced.

One can fault her, however, for managing to perpetuate the "Megahertz Myth" even as she claims to be aware of it. She writes:

My Windows machine is not the latest and greatest. This particular machine has a 1.533-gigahertz chip from Advanced Micro Devices. With Intel chips approaching 3 gigahertz, my AMD machine is at the bottom of the Windows heap. Nonetheless, it is nearly twice as fast as the iMac's 800-megahertz Motorola chip.

Apple buffs argue that chip speed is a misleading measure. AMD, which trails Intel in chip speed, makes the same argument. I agree, up to a point.

The quality of the hard drive, memory, bus, video card, etc., also affects a computer's speed. But, golly, 800 MHz just isn't very fast today. Given the difference in chip speeds, though, the iMac did pretty well. My hat's off to Apple's engineers.

First, she says that the 1.5 GHz AMD chip in her Windows machine is "nearly twice as fast" as the iMac's 800 MHz chip. This is misleading, and directly contradicts other statements she makes about the iMac being only slightly slower than her Windows machine. What she means is that the clock speed of the AMD chip is nearly twice that of the G4, but what she says is that the chip itself is nearly twice as fast. This simply isn't true, and one would expect a computer "expert" to be familiar with the distinction.

Ms. Komando then goes on to acknowledge the argument by Apple and AMD that clock speed as measured in megahertz (or gigahertz) is a poor indicator of a computer's actual speed. Yet once again, she confuses her terms, saying that Apple and AMD "argue that chip speed is a misleading measure." This seems to imply that the speed of a computer's processor doesn't really matter, when the argument is really that a chip's clock speed is a poor indicator of how quickly that processor can perform its operations.

Am I just quibbling over terms here? I don't think so. Ms. Komando cites the "quality of the hard drive, memory, bus, video card, etc." as other factors which affect a computer's performance, but she does not mention anything about the processor's actual architecture or demonstrate that she has any clue that certain chips can perform more operations per clock cycle than others. Instead she simply says that "800 MHz just isn't very fast today" and expresses amazement at the notion that Apple could make up most of the difference in "chip speed" simply by tweaking the speed of the hard drive and memory!

If the so-called computer experts can get so confused about the whole megahertz issue, how is Apple ever going to overcome this confusion with the general public? As every Mac user these days is painfully aware, significantly faster processors are desperately needed and long overdue, but until Intel abandons the overextended Pentium architecture and is forced to market more efficient chips at slower clock speeds, the megahertz myth is likely to remain a thorn in Apple's side.

Get Out of the Office!

I love Ms. Komando's idea of a "thorough test drive"! It appears to have consisted of using nothing but Microsoft Word for two months:

We do lots of writing here at Komando Town, and Microsoft Word is the preferred application. Swapping the Mac files with my staff on Windows machines was no problem.

Word files opened easily in either system. Things seemed seamless, whether we were writing on the iMac or the Windows machines. We did little with Excel and nothing with PowerPoint, but I'll bet they would have been equally flawless. So if you're using Microsoft's Office package, you should have no trouble swapping files.

The iMac came with ClarisWorks, a less capable office package. I didn't use that, although I have ClarisWorks for Windows on an old machine. I always liked that old version of ClarisWorks.

Ms. Komando was able to connect the iMac to her Windows network, swap Word files seamlessly between Windows and Mac, and generally had no problem using the iMac as a glorified word processor. That's great, but she gives the impression that the best part of her iMac experience came from Microsoft. Oh yeah, the iMac does come with "ClarisWorks" (she means AppleWorks), a "less capable office package" that she apparently never looked at. But hey, she liked ClarisWorks for Windows way back when, so it can't be a complete dud!

Ms. Komando can perhaps be forgiven for never even looking at AppleWorks, although I would argue that a reviewer should actually review a computer's basic features and included software if she is going to write anything meaningful about it. A more grievous sin, however, is that she apparently never even looked at Apple's much-touted iApps. The machine she reviewed would have come with iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD, all of which would have made the Mac's multimedia superiority readily apparent. But here's all she had to say about that:

The iMac comes with some highly touted multimedia software. That wasn't important to me — I used the iMac as a business computer. There is a great deal of multimedia software available for Windows, too. I doubt that the iMac software is a great advantage.

No matter how many times I read this paragraph, I never cease to be dumbfounded by it. The multimedia software wasn't important to her because she wanted to use the iMac as a "business computer." It apparently never occurred to Ms. Komando that the iMac's multimedia capabilities might actually be important to some of her readers, and that she therefore had a responsibility to give them at least some passing attention. She also doesn't seem to realize that the ability to organize photographs and video and to publish them via DVD might occasionally have a legitimate business application. That stuff is all for playtime, and because she's busy writing hack pieces like this one in Microsoft Word, she doesn't have the time to consider it. Doh!

As if Ms. Komando's willingness to remain ignorant wasn't bad enough, she then makes the assinine statement that she doubts the iMac's multimedia software is really any better than the multimedia software available for Windows--even though it's clear she knows nothing about either one. After all, Ms. Komando's experience with Word on a Mac wasn't appreciably different than her experience with Word on Windows, so why should she expect the multimedia software to be any better on the Mac? If Ms. Komando had really wanted to give a fair and impartial review, I think she would have done well to try using something other than Microsoft Office!

A Few Other "Issues"

Ms. Komando lists a few other "issues" with the iMac, all of which are as laughable as they are predictable. The first is that the iMac's mouse had only one mouse button. This is always a shock to Windows users, who are used to at least two buttons, and they always seem to feel that Apple has somehow taken something away from them. Ms. Komando writes:

I'm used to using the right button and scroll wheel on my Windows mouse. Really, Apple, you could do better than this.

The implication here seems to be that Apple was too cheap to include a "standard" mouse. Ms. Komando doesn't seem to realize that Apple has always used single-button mice, because most new computer users tend to find mice with multiple buttons confusing and difficult to use. Steve Levy details the evolution of the one-button mouse in his book Insanely Great:

When Apple tested a two-button mouse, Tesler recalled, "people made a lot of mistakes. With two buttons, people would constantly be turning their heads from the screen and looking at the mouse. . . . When we did experiments with identical everything, except the number of buttons on the mouse, the people who used a one-button mouse said it was easier to pick up. I realized that when you used the mouse, they were pointing. Pointing, and tapping with the finger they were pointing with. There was no mental model for pointing with more than one finger. So we got rid of the second button. . . ."

I don't really expect a long-time Windows user like Ms. Komando to be aware of the history behind the development of different kinds of mice, and I know there are many Mac users who swear by their multiple-button and scroll-wheel-toting input devices, but I think the question of whether Apple could have "done better" by including such a mouse is still up for debate.

In addition to getting used to a new mouse, Ms. Komando also had to get used to the iMac's 15-inch LCD after using a 21-inch CRT. And although she acknowledges that the iMac now is available with a 17-inch screen, she felt the 15-inch screen was "just too small." So has she seen the 23-inch Cinema Display yet?

And, of course, Ms. Komando bemoans the fact that there is no floppy drive. Never mind the fact that she had no trouble connecting to her Windows network and sharing files that way, she still feels that there are times when floppies are needed. The iMac, she states flatly, "should have a floppy drive."

The Windows "Edge"

In the end, Ms. Komando comes to the following conclusion:

So, if you're struggling with Windows and you think that an iMac will allow you to focus more on your business and not on computer issues, should you switch? I vote no.

Can you blame her? Because she judged the iMac by what she was "used to," completely ignored its multimedia capabilities, and chose to use it as nothing more than a glorified word processor, she simply couldn't fathom why anyone would pay hundreds more for a computer with nothing better to offer than a more stylish case.

After reading this review, it appears to me that the real "edge" that Windows has over the Mac is the number of clueless people out there who can't imagine that a computer could really do more than what they're "used to."

David Lang is CMUG's Content Editor. David works as a developer of Accordance Bible Software, and lives in Maitland, Florida with his wife and four children.